Life is hard and full of painful and frightening circumstances. We may lose our jobs or get sick. Our family and friends may die or abandon us. We may experience war or civil unrest. All of these have happened to Christians since Jesus ascended into heaven. And we can expect them to continue until He returns. But whatever happens, we can take comfort from the many verses reminding us, “Do not fear” and “Do not be afraid.” Through them, we are reminded not of our sinfulness and failings but His constant presence with us and His everlasting love for us. Take heart, do not fear. God is with us.
“For if all weeping is condemned, what shall we judge concerning the Lord himself, from whose body tears of blood trickled down? If all fear is branded as unbelief, how shall we account for that dread with which, we read, he was heavily stricken? If all sadness displeases us, how will it please us that he confesses his soul ‘sorrowful even to death’?”
One of my favorite comedy skits is Bob Newhart’s “Stop It.” If you’ve never seen it, Bob Newhart plays a therapist counseling a young woman who has several concerns, including a fear of being buried alive in a box. He tells her he has two words to cure her, “Stop it!” The young woman is understandably distressed and tries to talk to him, but he keeps repeating, “Stop it!” Finally, she’s fed up and stands up to him and his dubious counseling. Newhart offers to give her ten words to clear up everything, “Stop it, or I’ll bury you alive in a box!”
It’s a hilarious skit, but it’s terrible counseling advice. Sadly, some Christian advice about fear and being afraid takes a similar approach. When Christians struggle with fear and worry, someone will point out that the Bible tells us many times “do not fear” and “do not be afraid.” These are commands, and disobeying commands is a sin. We shouldn’t sin against God, so stop doing it.
Advice like this is meant to encourage other believers in their struggle, but it ends up adding to an already heavy burden. Being worried and afraid that your worries and fears are sins becomes an endless loop of worry and fear. A loop that “Stop it!” can rarely fix.
Reading through the many Scripture verses that say, “do not fear” or, “do not be afraid,” I noticed some common themes, and it made me wonder if we’ve overlooked the point of these passages. There are a couple of times where Jesus rebuked the disciples for lack of faith (Matt. 8:26), but the vast majority of the passages are not reprimands. They’re encouragements and words of comfort.
When God promised Abraham a son and heir, He told him, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great” (Gen. 15:1). As the Israel people stood between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army, Moses said, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today” (Exod. 14:13). After the Israelites had been taken captive, God sent word through Isaiah of the coming redemption, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isa. 43:1). Likewise, in Jeremiah, God said, “Do not fear, Nor be dismayed, O Israel! For, see, I am going to save you from afar” (Jer. 46:27).